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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

Old 21st Nov 2009, 05:02
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WOP/AG Peter Jensen. Instalment 2

No 2 Embarkation Depot was next door to No 2 ITD, with similar buildings. Here we were kitted out in flying gear, winter uniform and greatcoat and lots of little items like a bible, ‘housewife’ (sewing and cleaning materials) and all sorts of things – including ear plugs! Time was taken up mainly with PT, drill, route marches etc. Then one day came a most memorable occurrence. Even though it was early March, the weather was extremely dry and hot, and we went on a 5 mile route march with rifle and fixed bayonet – and respirators on! If you have ever worn a respirator, (commonly, but incorrectly called gas mask), you will appreciate the difficulty. Each breath has to be sucked through several inches of charcoal and is a great physical effort. On return to camp, we stacked rifles and had to run around the parade ground several times until we were gasping for air, with sweat running down our bodies. Then we had to go into the gas chamber in groups, remove the respirators and keep running around the chamber three times before we were let out. We were puffing and panting so much that it was impossible to hold one’s breath, so we breathed in the gas several times before we got out into the air.

The gas was so-called tear gas – one of the Di-phenyl-amine-chorazine group – but it was like having a lung full of razor blades. The NCOs thought it was a great joke. As we came out of the gas chamber, they told us (in between laughter) to stand facing the breeze and breathe deeply. Most of us just rolled around on the ground with phlegm etc coming out of our mouth, nose and eyes. I was sure that a terrible mistake had been made and that we had a received a dose of chlorine. However, we all got over it in a couple of hours, but it is an experience I will never forget.

After a fortnight at 2ED, we were told we would be leaving within a week and that those living nearby could go home each night and come back in the morning ready to embark. No one would know which day it would be until the morning of departure.

Eventually, on the 21st of March 1941, we were told to pack kitbags and were driven in buses to the wharf and marched on to the good ship ‘Aorangi’. As dusk fell, we sailed through the Heads to open sea. I remember lining the rail with several others as we watched, in silence, as darkness closed in. Then one of our number, John Anderson, voiced our thoughts: “I wonder if we will ever see that again?” Unfortunately, John was one of those who didn’t. He was later killed in North Africa.

Our journey to Canada on the Aorangi was a wonderful holiday. We travelled as tourist class passengers together with a number of civilian fare-paying passengers. Some of the chaps were lucky enough to score First Class cabins, but others were in steerage. I had a Tourist Class cabin with three others, so I couldn’t complain. Apart from a parade every morning and a couple of lectures, we spent the time relaxing, reading and playing deck games, all in all a pleasant holiday. We stopped at Suva for two days, called in on Christmas Island and Fanning Island, depots of the overseas telegraph line.

After three weeks on board, we arrived at the capital of British Columbia on Victoria Island. After a route march around the island, we boarded ship and next day sailed into Vancouver harbour. We were marched straight on to a train, told that our destination was Winnipeg, and sent off, much to our disappointment at not having had any time to have a look around Vancouver. We travelled in ancient wooden carriages, but they were quite comfortable. The windows were double-glazed and the seats converted into bunks at night. Climbing the Rockies was exciting, most of us seeing snow for the first time and we had lots of fun in it at the various stops. One morning we stopped for a couple of hours at Banff and the scenery to our breath away. We also had our first sighting of a ‘Mountie’, scarlet coat and all. He was very patient as we all took photos of him, (unfortunately, of course, in black and white). Finally, we left the Rockies and set out across the endless prairies, and finally, after three days and nights on the train, reached Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba Province.

Winnipeg was a beautiful little city of 300,000 people, and an unusual feature is that instead of clocks on the tall buildings, they have (or had then at least) dial thermometers. The day we arrived there they were registering 32 degrees F (freezing point).

After looking at the Wireless School of Tuxedo, we were given the rest of the day off so we went sight-seeing into the centre of town. While 32 degrees is quite cold, we found the worst aspect was the cold wind which blew unchecked across the vast open spaces of the prairie. We spent most of the time inside the centrally heated shops. When we decided to change shops, it was a mad dash from one to the other, being careful not to slip (or worse, do the splits) on the frozen pavements.

With summer coming on, it soon warmed up and the cold became just a memory. In its place came a worse nuisance – mosquitoes! Fortunately, our huts were well screened and there was plenty of insect spray, but parades were torture - you stood at attention while the mozzies chewed you to pieces. However, apart from the mozzies, we had a great time. Accommodation was far superior to what it was in Australia. Spring bunks with mattresses, sheets and pillows instead of a straw palliasse on an iron frame with only a grey blanket. The food was good and the huts were an ‘H’ shape, the middle part being the ablutions, with plenty of hot water for the showers.

Discipline was slack – the NCOs were friendly and used to join in with us when we played softball or cricket, not like back home where the NCOs were like paranoid bulls. The civilians were wonderful and practically fell over themselves wanting to entertain us. It used to be embarrassing when you arranged to visit one family and another would ring to ask when you would visit them again. Our five months at Tuxedo was a happy and memorable time.

One thing that really staggered me was how better educated we were compared with the Canadians, and to a lesser extent, the New Zealanders. Most of our chaps had, like me, left school at 15, after passing the Intermediate Certificate, but our standard was roughly the same as the Canadians who’d left school at 18. Our grasp on everything was far superior, especially in arithmetic. The Canucks couldn’t do any mental arithmetic. They needed a paper and pencil for everything.

In my course, there were 72 Aussies, 72 NZers and 50 Canucks, and in practically every exam, the first 10 would consist of something in the order of eight Aussies and two New Zealanders. The first Canucks would come in around 11th or 12th. From what I heard, this was much the same at other EATS* schools. (*Empire Air Training Scheme)

During the final examinations, as the results were coming out, I was leading the field, (much to my surprise). One of my mates, Alan Marriott, was right behind me until the last subject, Practical Radio, when I made a stupid mistake which put Alan out in front. Anyway, second isn’t bad!

Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:09. Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
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Old 21st Nov 2009, 10:38
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So interesting....

No need to say "Keep it up " with your record, Wiley, but it is so interesting to read of what I went through but in so different a way and to such a different set of rules. It was interesting to see how the Aussies came first when previous education came into it and I would say that this leadership quality was reproduced when it came to nationalities on the Squadrons. Certainly the first Mosquito Squadron to be formed in the R.A.F. had an Australian Station Commander, "Groupie Kyle, later Sir Wallace, and of course the venerated "Hughie " Edwards V.C. D.S.O. D.F.C. etc as Squadron Commander and later, the Governor of Western Autralia. There were also Australian Flight Commanders such as Bill Blessing . I remember several Canadian Pilots and it is true that there were many New Zealander Observers as we called them in those days ( They sported the Flying keyhole to use an euphism ! ). In my own training at I.T.W. it was always the Scots who surpassed everybody in the more celebral of the courses such as Maths, Navigation etc. I remember that there seemed to be a preponderance of "Geordies " and Canadian Air gunners and Irish W/op A.G's. Possibly the Geordie strain might have come from the traditional stature of mining communities but the rest ? Apropos that, the W/Op. A.G., in the later stages i.e. 1943 onwards, of the Bomber Command offensive , very rarely, if ever, fired a gun in anger as the nose gun was taken out as superfluous in Lancs. and Halifaxes. There was, but not often seen, a category of pure W/op.who had not received any gunnery training. Thanks a lot for an extremely interesting story and I wonder what "Health and Safety " would make of the training today ?
Old 21st Nov 2009, 11:43
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WOP/AG Peter Jensen. Instalment 3

From the Wireless School, we went to Gunnery School at a small town on the shores of Lake Winnipeg called Portage La Prairie. This was great fun, flying in Fairey Battles shooting at drogues towed by other aircraft, or at splash targets, and when the pilot got bored, we’d fly low over the shoreline, sending up ducks by the thousand. We would fire into the masses of them – you could even see tracer flying everywhere – but the ducks would fly on unconcerned. Only once did I knock a few feathers out of one of them, but it didn’t seem to worry it. It was a sobering realisation of how difficult air to air gunnery really is.

Sometimes, when the pilots really got their blood up, they would indulge in some violent aerobatics. It was great!

I really enjoyed Gunnery School, and, again to my amazement, I did well and actually topped the course. Came the great day on 29th September 1941, I was presented with an AG wing and promoted to Sergeant.

Next day, we packed our kit, and, armed with a rail warrant, set off for the Embarkation Depot at Halifax. We were allowed an extra couple of days to get there, so my mate Bill Hughes and I stopped off at Toronto, Montreal and Niagara Falls and eventually arrived at Halifax on a cold dark wet day. Winter was on the way and the warm sunny happy days of Winnipeg were well in the past.

The day after arriving at Halifax, I learned that I had been commissioned along with three others – Alan Marriott, Keith Anderson and Tom Joseph – so we left our mates and moved to the Officers’ Mess. I was sad to leave the others, but soon found out how lucky I was. A few days later, we were lined up on the parade ground and marched to the wharves and on to an Armed Merchant Cruiser named ‘Wolfe’. The ship had originally been French, and named ‘Montcalm’, but was commandeered by the British on the fall of France. (General Wolfe defeated General Montcalm on the heights of Quebec.)

The plan was that ‘Wolfe’, together with two other armed merchant cruisers, would cross the Atlantic together, but what a trip! I suddenly realised that the fun was over and that there was a war on!

The ship was Spartan, stripped for action, and while I had a cabin, as did the other Pilot Officers, the rest of the boys were in the hold sleeping on the floor! We spent most of the night hours at boat stations, continual U-Boat alarms. One of the other ships was hit by a torpedo, but we didn’t stop. Next morning, he was only a smudge of smoke on the horizon. They told us later that he limped into Belfast.

We arrived eventually in Greenock, Scotland, in a harbour full of shipping, commercial and military, with a Catalina practising circuits and splashes amongst it all!! We were marched off the ship and on to a train. After the immense Canadian trains, it appeared so tiny that it looked like a toy. It was getting on to dark, drizzling with rain, cold, miserable and gloomy – how we missed the bright lights of Winnipeg!

We were not told our destination. (We were to find out later that it was Bournemouth, but it was kept secret, as the King and Queen were visiting the ‘Empire Troops’ there that day. We cursed our luck by missing them by one day.) We rattled on all night and as dawn rose, we arrived in London, a short stop and on to Bournemouth. We had our first view of bombed out houses, even though we had seen pictures of bomb damage in newspapers and newsreels, but seeing the real thing for the first time was quite traumatic.

I can’t remember how long I had in Bournemouth, two or three weeks or thereabouts. I visited a tailor, (Austin Reed of Regent Street), and was measured for uniforms, greatcoat, caps, and purchased shoes, shirts etc and eventually looked like an officer (but didn’t feel like one). Time was spent usually at lectures in the mornings and aimlessly wandering about the town in the afternoons. I also went to London twice and each time, spent two days there. I found it a fascinating place.

About the beginning of January 1942, I finally received a posting to the No. 1 RAF base in England – Cranwell. This was an immense organisation like a small city. It housed a couple of flying training schools, a Cadet College, Officers Training College, Signals School, heaps of administrative buildings, shopping areas and God knows what else. I only saw a small part of it. About 20 of us – Aussies, NZers and Canucks were posted there to the Signals School. I think they were appalled at our lack of skill and decided we needed brushing up.

We flew in Percival Proctors, pretty looking single engine monoplanes with spatted undercarriage, and flown by Polish pilots on rest from fighter squadrons. They resented being taken off operational flying and their flying reflected this!

Christmas came and with it, the coldest winter for years. In line with the old Air Force tradition, the officers waited on the airmen for Christmas dinner. My main recollection of this event is that we poured beer for the airmen from jugs which also contained raisins! I have never seen that before or since.

Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:11. Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
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Old 21st Nov 2009, 12:06
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A Spitfire Pilot. Part 19.

Social Life at Biggin Hill – April 1942

I haven’t mentioned much about the social life at Biggin. The Sergeant Pilots were all billeted in what used to be the Station Commanders’ house which was a vast place not too far from the dispersal and I shared a room with Tommy Wright, who’d bought the radio I’d managed to pinch from Hawarden when I ran short of money, which was fairly frequent in those days. It really was a pleasant place, the mess was quite a way, but then all we had to do was ring up transport and say there were pilots waiting to go down to the mess and up would come a 15 cwt van driven by a very nice WAAF, in we’d pile, and go down to the mess. When we wanted to go back again, reverse the procedure, it was great!

All pilots were issued with a .38 revolver and a few rounds of ammunition. We used to practice now and again just in case we landed in France and had to shoot our way out. In actual fact very few of us carried revolvers when we flew, the main reason being there was nowhere to put the thing. We tried sticking it down the side of our flying boots, but it wasn’t too secure and more often than not you’d find the revolver bouncing about in the bottom of the cockpit, so we decided to give that a miss. But occasionally, in the evenings, we’d decide to do a bit of practice from the windows of the billet. We would all lean out the window and fire down at ground targets until we got some irate “erk” who rushed in from the NAAFI saying the ricochets were hitting the NAAFI, so we had to call that off.

George Malan was with us at this time and we’d become very friendly and more often not we used to fly together. (George Malan was the brother of the famous “Sailor” Malan, Group Captain, DSO*, DFC*, one of the highest-scoring pilots in Fighter Command and subsequently Station Commander at Biggin Hill in 1943.) He flew as my number 2 and was quite happy to do so on whatever trip we went on. He had a little tiny Austin 7 for which he had no insurance, no tax, and he’d pinch the petrol from one of our bowsers. On one occasion he was up in Piccadilly, parked the car up there and came out from the shop to find a policeman standing by the car. He said to George,

“Where’s your tax?”

George said, “Oh I haven’t got it, I’ve applied for it.”

“Where’s your Insurance?”

“ I haven’t got that with me”

And with that George got in the car, started up and just left, leaving the policeman standing there.

Sometimes George and I and Pete Fowler, another chap who’d come to us from a Hurricane squadron, used to pile into George’s car and do little trips to pubs, into Westerham and various places and George used to let me drive his car, it was a great little thing, used to go like a bomb, often getting up to as much as 40 mph!

The powers that be decided that it was no good pilots living in the lap of luxury, so they cancelled all our transport and provided each member of the squadron with a bicycle. We got quite used to them I suppose it kept us a little fitter than we might have been. The one good thing about them was that in the summer we used to take 12 bore single-barrelled shotguns, get on our bikes and ride all round the aerodrome chasing rabbits. George and Tommy Wright were pie-hot with a shotgun, they used pot things left, right and centre, but I regret to say I never hit a thing with a 12 bore.

Sometime earlier, Brian Kingcome had told me he’d put me in for a commission. Now at one time, if a Sergeant Pilot was commissioned, it was one way to get him off the squadron. You’d commission him and then make sure he was posted somewhere else, so the first thing I asked Brian was, would I have to leave the squadron? He said in no way, according to him I was quite a valued member of the squadron!
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Old 21st Nov 2009, 20:40
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WOP/AG Peter Jensen. Instalment 4

Shortly after Christmas, I had a week’s leave and spent a couple of days in Paisley (near Glasgow) with relatives of people who lived near us in Gladesville. The only event of interest during this time was visiting a cattle auction. To get to Paisley, I caught the ‘Flying Scotsman’ to Edinburgh. This was a trip I anticipated with pleasure and excitement, but was greatly disappointed, as it was a slow trip, with many unscheduled stops, due no doubt to wartime problems. I stayed overnight at an hotel in Edinburgh and at dinner, I noticed an RAF Squadron Leader - (obviously a WW1 man, with a missing nose) – sitting near me, and when I had finished my meal, he sent the waitress to ask me to join him for a port. I declined the port, but had a coffee with him. He was a very interesting man whose passion was - (of all things) – birds. His ambition was to go to the Macdonnell Ranges (in Australia) and study the birdlife there. I think I made some stupid statement like: “I didn’t think there were any birds there.” He was probably most unimpressed.

I finished the course at Cranwell at the end of January 1942 and we were sent on leave. This time I made arrangements through the Lady Ryder organisation and went to a small village called Rieveaux whose only claim to fame was the ruins of an abbey that was pillaged by the lackeys of King Henry VIII. I was the guest of the squire, an elderly gentleman who was a colonel (Boer War, I presume). It was a fascinating place. He had a family mausoleum on the top of a hill that had the top levelled off. I actually saw one of the yokels touch his forelock as he passed the old boy. There was also a Lord of the Manor, (can’t remember the name), but he wasn’t there and the manor house had been taken over by a tank regiment, and all the once beautiful gardens had been turned into quagmires.

My next posting was to Prestwick near Ayr in Scotland. It was very hush-hush and the equipment we trained on was referred to as S.I. (special installation) or S.E. (secret equipment). It was of course later named radar. Apart from classroom teaching, we also flew in Blackburn Bothas – a nice looking twin engine aircraft, but grossly underpowered. If one engine cut out, it headed to the earth like a streamlined house brick. Luckily, our course had no prangs. Our exercises were to fly over the Irish Sea and home the pilot on to Ailsa Crag, a large rock sticking out of the middle of the sea. With our equipment, you had to be careful, because you could line up the aircraft on the target easily enough, but there was no way of knowing if it was in front or behind you! My mate Pat Morrison, a New Zealander, ‘homed’ his aircraft away from Ailsa Crag. Very embarrassing!

This period was when no one knew the dangers of microwaves and radioactivity and we worked with unshielded equipment. Fortunately, the only problem I had was that my watch was ruined. It used to do all sorts of things, including (I am sure) going backwards. I had to buy a new watch eventually.

This course lasted until the end of March 1942, and after more leave, I was posted to Hooten Park early in May. At this point, it was obvious that I was headed for Coastal Command, as they began teaching us various procedures (W/T and otherwise) related to maritime flying. We flew in Airspeed Oxfords and practised wireless and gunnery.

I left Hooten Park on 7th June 1942 for more leave, mostly in Bournemouth, where I became acquainted with friends of Pat Morrison, the Brown family, who from then until I left England became my home away from home. The family consisted of Mrs May Brown, her sister Elsie, May’s daughter Dorothy and Dorothy’s husband Jim Keep. Dorothy was in the WAAFs, so unless our leaves coincided, I didn’t see much of her. Jim was in the Army and a few weeks after I met him, he was posted to North Africa and I never saw him again until 1978 when we went on a trip to England. I was never told what happened to Mr Brown and never asked. They were a kind and generous family and were a wonderful sanctuary for me to relive normal family life. They introduced me to the Durell family, Mrs Durell, three boys – Lawrence, Leslie and Gerald – and one girl, Margaret. Mr Durell had been a civil engineer and they had spent most of their time in the Far East. Mr Durell died in Burma and the rest of the family lived on Corfu until 1938, when they moved to Bournemouth, bringing their Greek maid Maria with them. They were incredible people and I used to enjoy spending a lot of time with them. After the war, Lawrence became world famous as a poet and author – almost became Poet Laureate, (pipped at the post by John Betjeman), and Gerald became even more famous as a Naturalist and author. He was the first to start breeding programmes for endangered species.

My next posting was to No. 4 (C)OTU at Invergordon, where training became really serious. We were formed up into crews – pilot, navigator, wireless ops and gunners – and went on simulated operations. I can’t remember much of this period, so it couldn’t have been very dramatic. I left Invergordon in mid-July and after another leave, arrived (at last!) on a real operational squadron!!

461 Squadron had just been formed. It was an EATS squadron, unlike 10 Squadron, which was (and still is) a permanent RAAF squadron. Both squadrons at the time were based at Mountbatten, across the bay from Plymouth. Some personnel from 10 Sqn were transferred to 461 to get it going, then it was built up with EATS trainees and some RAF bods, mainly WOMs (Wireless Operator Mechanics). There were none of these in the RAAF, but RAF rules demanded one on each Sunderland. The commanding officer was RAF – Wing Commander Halliday – also the Flight Commander – Squadron Leader Lovelock.

When I arrived in Plymouth I was staggered – I had seen a lot of bomb damage in London and other places, but nothing like this. The whole centre of the city was just a mass of rubble, yet life was carrying on as normal on the outskirts. It was beyond description, yet everyone was going about their business as if all was normal!! What a spirit!

When I arrived at Mountbatten, I was allocated a room in an old building about 50 yards from the Mess called the Annex. I went there and went on a voyage of discovery in and around the building, finally finding the bathroom and decided to have a bath as no one else was around. I got my towel and dressing gown, locked the door and turned on the hot water. It was hot alright, but a muddy brown colour. It must have been rust in the pipes. Anyway, I had a very pleasant bath, put on my best uniform and, as it was nearing 6 PM, set off for the Mess and dinner.

The Mess was a large, imposing building facing Plymouth harbour and was side-on to the Annex. As I approached it, I saw it had a side door on my side, so I thought it would save me a long walk around the front, so I entered by it and was almost knocked down by a figure doing handsprings down the corridor. He had reached the door just as I entered. He had his cap pulled down over his ears and as he stood up, I could see his shining eyes and a large toothy grin splitting his face. There were twelve men lining the corridor cheering and yelling and laughing. He ignored me and made his way back up the corridor.

I turned to the man nearest me and said: “Who was that?”

He looked at me. “461?” he asked.

“Yes.” I said.

“Oh,” he said, "He’s your Flight Commander,” and he turned away in a superior sort of manner.

I was to find out later that 10 Squadron had this superior feeling over 461. Anyway, we showed them – we sank more U-Boats!

I was put on a crew which had already been established and had already flown operationally. The skipper was Bertie Smith, First Pilot Dudley Marrows, navigator Fred Gasgoine, WOM – Smedley (RAF). I have forgotten his Christian name. The WOPs were Les Wilson and John Gamble. The names of the fitter, rigger and engineer I have forgotten.

My job was the tail gunner. I felt pretty useless beside this experienced crew, but they made allowances and soon I became part of them and was allowed an odd turn on the wireless.

Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:12. Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
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Old 21st Nov 2009, 22:50
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Cliff, I don't think that the twelve second pilots were all aboard together
Indeed - it was one extra 'bod' in 10 of Dad's last 12 ops (so 10 people in total, one on each op). Sorry to have caused confusion! Dad's last op was to Stuttgart on 20 Feb 44 from Woodhall Spa with 619 squadron (see 619 The History of a Forgotten Squadron by Bryan Clark).

One thing Dad has often talked about is the very mixed feelings at the end of a tour. He said in a letter home 'it was certainly a relief to get off operating for a bit, but there is an unhappy side to it too. All my crew finished with me, and before you could bat an eyelid we were scattered to the four winds....You probably won't realise what it means to have your crew split up. We had been living, eating, and working together for so long, and we had gone through so much together with each man's life depending on the other one. I feel quite lost on my own now'.
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Old 23rd Nov 2009, 04:49
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WOP/AG Peter Jensen. Instalment 5

On August 12 1942, the squadron had its first loss and of all people, it was the commanding officer, Halliday. The night before, we were on an op. and the WOP picked up an SOS. This was received by Group, who ordered out a search kite from 461. Halliday took off – he was the most experienced pilot and had once landed on the open sea. This time he was not so lucky and when they found the crew of the ditched aircraft in their dinghy, he attempted to land, but pranged and all the crew died except the navigator, who survived in a dinghy for five days before being rescued.

The flight commander, Colin Lovelock, took over the squadron. More recruits arrived and crews were re-arranged. Dudley Marrows became a captain and I moved to his crew as No. 2 WOP. No. 1 was a WOM from the RAF, Larry Donnelly. On 16th September, the squadron moved to Poole in Dorset.

My first flight with Bertie Smith was on 26th July, a training flight for 1 hour 10 minutes. The next flight was on 27th July, my first op., which lasted 12 hours 35 minutes. I flew 14 ops with Smith, then transferred to Dudley Marrows on 7th November and flew my first op. with him on 20th November after 12 training flights.

Life settled down to regular flying duties, mostly anti-submarine patrols over the Bay of Biscay or convoy escorts over the Atlantic, occasionally air-sea rescue searches. These became routine and nothing very exciting happened apart from an occasional sighting of an unidentified aircraft – when we ducked into the nearest cloud.

Early in January 1943, I was posted to a town called Chipping Sodbury where Parnalls had a factory producing Frazer Nash turrets, the type fitted to Sunderlands. Here I was taught the intricacies of the turrets. The course lasted only a week, but it was worth the effort.

Back to the squadron and the old routine until 17t March when I was posted to the Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge to do a Gunnery Leader’s Course to last two weeks. I turned up there with about 15 others, (can’t remember exactly), mainly from bomber squadrons, the intention being that we would return to our squadrons to be appointed squadron gunnery leaders. Here we were to fly in old Mk Ic Wellington bombers, with Spitfires to provide fighter affiliation.

The day we arrived we were given billets outside the station. I was billeted with a local vicar with a Canadian by the name of Town – can’t remember his Christian name. The next day, we were assembled in a room and the course explained to us. We were also harangued about safety procedures – they hadn’t had a fatal accident for six months and they intended to keep it that way. Anyone not observing correct procedures would be in trouble! We went to the parachute section and were given a combination parachute and Mae West all in one. I have never seen these before or since. Each one was numbered and we had to sign for the one we received. When I had advanced in the queue to be three from its head, the sergeant handing out the parachutes came to number 13 and he said: “No one wants that one,” and was about to throw it back when I said: “I’ll have it.” He gave me a queer look, but gave it to me and I signed.

We went out to the tarmac, where the Wellingtons (known as ‘Wimpies’), were lined up. We were split into fours and allocated an aircraft, which we boarded.

To board a Wimpy, you entered from underneath and climbed up into the aircraft through the second pilot’s position. When everyone was in, a piece of board was put down over the hole and that was the seat for the second pilot. A couple of ‘stirrups’ folded out from the sides of the hole for footrests.

The four gunners on my aircraft were distributed – one in the navigator’s position, one at the wireless, one in the crash position (at the main spar of the wing) and one (me) in the second pilot’s position.

It was a cloudy day, with a low cloud base (about 800 feet). We took off and climbed above cloud into sunshine, then an engine coughed and stopped. I wasn’t too worried – we couldn’t be far from base; surely we could return OK. We dropped down into cloud, then out and below. The first thing I saw were high tension cables in front of us. We missed them – (I don’t know if we went over or under them; I must have closed my eyes). I looked around - no airstrips; only fields, trees, then open countryside. All this time, the pilot had been talking on R/T, but unlike the Sunderland, this did not go through the intercom, so we didn’t know what he was saying to base.

I was still not too concerned and was watching how he was handling the aircraft. I noted he had seven pounds of boost on the good engine, (which was the maximum it could take), and he seemed to be calm. Suddenly he switched over to intercom and said to everyone: “Take your crash positions”, and I saw that we were only a few feet from the ground and heading for an earth wall higher than we were. (I found out later that we were over an old tidal swamp that had been walled in.) I knew that I didn’t have time to get to the crash position, so I braced myself, put my right hand on the windscreen and watched the wall coming towards us and silently called on the pilot to pull back on the stick to get us over the wall. He was a good pilot – he kept calm, held the aircraft down to keep flying speed, then at the last split second, pulled the nose up and got the nose over the wall. The middle of the fuselage hit the top of the wall and broke its back, then ploughed into the earth with a sickening ‘SCRUNCH’.

I was thrown into the windscreen, then dropped down to the bottom of the aircraft in an upright position as it skated along the earth. I remember seeing my legs being mangled amongst the geodetic structure of the fuselage – (the body was built of metal lattice covered in fabric) – and desperately trying to find a hand hold to pull myself out. After a surprisingly long time, the aircraft came to a halt and I was relieved to find I was still alive. However, my relief was short-lived, as I heard what sounded like crackers going off. I looked around and saw that the aircraft was on fire and the ammunition in the turrets was exploding.

I tried to free my legs from the wreckage, but they were totally pinned down. I looked around and where the aircraft had split open, I could see the pilot walking away. Stupidly, I said to myself: “It must have been a good landing.” (There is a saying in the Air Force: ‘Any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing.’) The pilot looked back, saw me, and ran back and started pulling the wreckage off my legs. I thought to myself: “I bet he pulls my right leg. If he does, it will come off.” Sure enough, he grabbed my right leg. I tried to stop him with my hand. He then grabbed my arm and pulled me clear of the wreck. Two other men came running up, grabbed my arms and dragged me about 50 or 60 feet clear of the burning aircraft, then raced back with the pilot to try to rescue the others on board.

I tried to crawl further from the aircraft, knowing that the tanks could explode at any second. But somehow, my limbs didn’t seem to want to work. I pulled my helmet off and ran my fingers over my head. A finger slipped into a hole in the top of my head – I pulled it out quickly.

A short time later, the pilot and the two good Samaritans came back and took me further away from the aircraft and made me comfortable with the help of a couple of overcoats. (I was shaking from head to foot with shock.) Apparently, the two rescuers were St John Ambulance men who just happened to be cycling past as we pranged.

They checked me over and told me no bones were broken, but I had concussion and lots of bruising and contusions – a bruise covered the whole inside of my right arm – and would I like a shot of morphia? I said no thanks. After some time, (maybe half an hour), the RAF Ambulance arrived. Apparently, they had got lost. The M.O. came up to me, took one look and produced an hypodermic. One of the St John men said: “He doesn’t want morphia.” The M.O. said: “We tell these blokes what they want or don’t want.” and rammed the needle into my arm. Well! I have never felt such a feeling of wellbeing as at that moment – the pain disappeared, the shaking stopped and I felt at peace with the world. Someone produced a cup of tea which I enjoyed immensely.

It seemed that of the other three gunners, one was killed – (he was in the crash position, where I should have been with him) – one had a broken back, and one, like me, had concussion etc. They started loading us on to the ambulance, and I heard the M.O. say to the pilot: “You had better come too, for a check-up.” The pilot looked at his watch and said: “No, I’ve got to get back to the station. Otherwise, I’ll miss out on lunch.” I thought: what a good idea. I started to get to my feet, saying: “I’ll come with you.” But was pushed back on the stretcher by someone saying: “You’ll come with us.” So the three of us ended up in Ely Hospital.

Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:16. Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
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Old 23rd Nov 2009, 11:22
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Wowee, there's another cracker of a story. Wiley your contributions are fantastic.

Crashing Wellingtons appears to have been not at all uncommon - Phil Smith, pilot of the crew I'm researching, survived at least two that I know of, and witnessed a third at an OTU. He was passing through Lichfield on what I gather was a joyride in September 1941, writing the following in his diary:
We landed and no sooner had we got out of the plane than we saw a Winpy starting to burn on the runway. A very nasty memory, these planes are certainly death traps if they catch alight.
The crash, on 27 September 1941, saw Wellington P9216 take off for dual circuits and landings and at 15.15 after a heavy landing the undercarriage collapsed and the aircraft caught fire. Two crew were on board - Sgt A.H.Ashwood RAFVR was seriously burnt and died later that evening - Fl/Lt F.B.Slade RAFVR went on to become a Flight Commander at 12 Sqdn Wickenby being awarded a DSO but was killed on a raid to Peenemunde on 17th August 1943. Ashwood was the first person to die in an air related accident since the O.T.U was formed in April 1941.

Training, it appears, wasn't much safer than being on operations!!
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Old 23rd Nov 2009, 13:04
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Here is the first chapter of my Dad's memoirs -- mainly written in 2007 -- starting from his call up.

Just as background, he was brought up in SE London. Both his parents
were teachers which Dad went on to become.

I will put explanatory notes in where necessary.

Apologies in advance for typos, blame the OCR and me!

Here goes, and I hope you like reading what life was like as ground crew. Not as exciting as JF's dad, but history nonetheless!

Joining the Royal Air Force

I joined the Royal Air Force on 15th September 1942.

My conscription had been officially delayed until I had completed my teacher's course. I went off to Bedford Station, where we were taken by lorry to No.2 Recruitment Centre, RAF Cardington. That is the airfield where there is the enormous hangar in which the airships were built; including the R101.

We were kitted out, had various medical examinations and aptitude tests for suitability for the trades that we had chosen.

The technical trades required a high educational standard and scientific knowledge. I wanted to be a Flight Mechanic and I was accepted for this.

Whilst there I was surprised to meet Eric L*****, he had been a student with me at Shoreditch Training College and he too was selected to be a Flight Mechanic; we stayed together for almost six months.

We were taken by troop-train to Skegness for our Basic Training. It was late summer and the weather was good. Our basic training comprised marching, formating and doing arms drill. We lived in commandeered houses in various roads. There was no furniture, but in each room there were iron beds, each with a wooden cabinet beside. Eric and I had the downstairs front room.

In the afternoons we had to go on cross-country runs; that I quite liked, I had done cross-country running at school and always did well. We had to run around the fields at Wainfleet, behind Skegness. On the way I used to pick up potatoes and carry them in my vest. I used to roast them in the kitchen during the evening.

At 1100 our squad always seemed to be outside the local café, where we broke ranks and went in for tea and sardine sandwiches. Our main meals were taken at the Seacroft Hotel.

This was a six-week course and as part of the passing out tests I had to jump and pull myself up onto the roof of an air-raid shelter, I could never do this, but no one seemed to mind!

At the end of the course we had a 48 hour pass and I went home to Mottingham. We had to report to RAF Cosford, for the Flight Mechanic's course. This was a large permanent station, on the A41, near Wolverhampton. The camp was separated from the airfield by the railway line. There were wooden huts, a parade-ground and several hangars.

Lessons were held in a large hangar, teaching was done in small groups around parts and engines. The notebooks that we kept and our learning was of a high standard, everyone was most conscientious.

The hangar is still there and it is now used as an indoor sports stadium.

Sometimes we went to learn on actual aircraft. Several were very old. There was a Westland Wallace and a Cleveland Ohio as well as the more modern planes. We had to practise swinging the propellers, starting, running and checking the engines. It is now all part of the R.A.F. Museum.

The course at Cosford lasted sixteen weeks and beside the technical training we had many other activities. Every Saturday morning we had military training. We used to go on the rifle-range for target practice, the .303 Lee-Enfield rifle had a real kick into one's shoulder.

Before I went into the R.A.F. I had an air-rifle that I used for target practice in the garden. We also had a .22 rifle and ammunition that we kept in the roof at home, in case of invasion, so I could shoot quite well. We had bayonet practice and we also learned to throw live hand-grenades.

After 1300 on Saturday we were free until Monday morning, unless we had to go on church parade. The huts were each equipped with about twenty bunk-beds. I always liked to sleep in a lower bunk.

Sometimes we would walk to Albrighton, that was the nearest village. Through Eric, we got to know a family in Dudley Road, Wolverhampton. Every weekend they would entertain a few servicemen for an afternoon and evening, including an excellent supper. We were all musical and we would play the piano and sing.

We would catch the trolleybus back to Wolverhampton Station and go back to Cosford Station on the last train, It was always packed with tipsy airmen and WAAFs!! One had to be in camp by midnight.

There was a military band at Cosford. They would practise in the band hut on Thursday evenings. As I played the clarinet, I decided to see if I could join them, I went in to see the Warrant Officer bandmaster, He asked me to play the note, upper C. I did so and I was in!

In retrospect it was a wonderful experience. It is quite transporting to be playing in a large group and making a wonderful sound. The enthusiasm of the northern brass players was almost indecent. We played marches ready for church parade and practised selections from musicals; Showboat, White Horse Inn, etc.

I was embarrassed and proud to be given a bandsmen's badge, that I had to wear on the right arm of my jacket. I can understand why orchestral players accept a low salary, though they are very intelligent and gifted. It must be a wonderful life making music.

There were even more advantages to being in the band.

Because we had to play for church parade every other Sunday, we were given a thirty-six hour pass for alternate weekends. I used to go home every fortnight.

On one occasion we had to play at a Group Captain's funeral. We had to play the Beethoven and Chopin funeral marches all the way to Albrighton church. On the way back we played 'Colonel Bogey' and I felt this was inappropriate!

Actually it is quite difficult to play when on the march. You have to watch your dressing, keeping level with the players on either side. The music is on a small card that is held on a clip on the clarinet.

Whilst I was at Cosford, the government sponsored a Coastal Command week, The aim was to raise money from the public to buy aircraft; a Spitfire cost £5,000. Every evening, we had to play at the Odeon, Halesowen, for the half-hour entertainment between the main films. I remember we always started the programme with 'Anchors Aweigh'. It was very stirring.

At the end of our course, we were tested. I passed and became an A.C.1.

What is an AC1?? - Angels
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Old 23rd Nov 2009, 13:28
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Aircraftsman 1st Class

Third rung on the eight rung ladder in those days. Next rank was Leading Aircraftsman which was the lowest 'command' rank equivalent to Lance Corporal.
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Old 23rd Nov 2009, 16:29
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That's interesting, Blacksheep. Was LAC really considered a command rank? When I joined in 71 the lowest rungs were: Aircraftman (AC) no trade training, Leading Aircraftman (LAC) - generally on completion of initial trade training and under supervison, Senior Aircraftman (SAC) -after a year's service on passing the promotion exam or passing trade training with a distinguished pass and expected to be able to work without supervision, Junior Technician (JT) for the technical trades following further trade training or ex-apprentice. The first 'command' rank was Corporal. TB
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Old 23rd Nov 2009, 18:20
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IIRC it was the 1964 Trade Structure the changed the ranks a bit. Brilliant Henlow cadets would graduate as Junior Technicians and they had changed the rank identification from the inverted chevron to the four blade propellor.
Very embarrassing the first time I saw one.. A brand new J/T came along. I saw his four bladed propellor and I thought that he was in the Air Training Corps.
"Nice uniform the ATC has got now," quoth I.

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Old 23rd Nov 2009, 21:13
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WOP/AG Peter Jensen. Instalment 6

I spent three weeks in Ely Hospital. My main memory of that is being dosed up on the new drug – sulphanilamide. When they sewed up my leg, they left a drain pipe hanging out of it. It would start to heal and I would go off the drug and my leg would swell up and I’d go on the drug again.

At the beginning, I couldn’t sleep too well – I would start to drop off and I would hear the ‘scrunch!’ as the aircraft hit the ground, and I would be wide awake again. However, I gradually regained normalcy and after three weeks, I was transferred to Littlport Convalescent Home.

This was a pleasant time. I was in a ward with four or five other airmen from different squadrons flying different aircraft and we spent many hours arguing over religion, politics, the merits of different aircraft and anything else we could think of.

I had my twenty-second birthday there and celebrated it like any other day – flat on my back.

Later, I learned that during my convalescence, two other prangs happened at Suttonbridge, one, like us, a lost engine during takeoff and the other during fighter affiliation when a Spitfire ran into a Wimpy. All in all, nine pupils, including my room-mate Town, and three staff pilots killed and three pupils injured. It certainly ruined the station’s safety record.

After two weeks there, I took my first tentative steps, albeit with a walking stick, and then, after a few days, I was walking without aid, but with a pronounced limp. I went for a medical check and expected to be posted back to the squadron, but to my dismay, I was sent to Loughborough Rehabilitation Unit. There, I had lots of physiotherapy, exercises, swimming etc. and finally convinced the authorities that I could walk without a limp. I finally got my posting back to the squadron, plus a couple of days leave.

On my way back to the squadron, I stayed a couple of nights with my friends, the Brown family, at Bournemouth, and that morning, about 10 a.m., there was an air raid on the town by several FW190 fighter bombers. Up to that point, Bournemouth had not had many air raids apart from a couple of bad raids early in the war, and the locals had become quite blasé and didn’t bother going to shelters when the alert sounded (which was often, as the bombers constantly raided Southhampton).

It was a lovely warm sunny morning. I was in the lounge room - (the others were in the dining room talking to neighbours) – when the windows started rattling. I went to the window and looked out to see a FW190 popping cannon shells down the street. All I could think of was “glass!!”, and found myself hard up against the opposite wall. (I must have jumped back in one bound.) I raced into the dining room where there was a ‘Morrison’ shelter, (a table made of plate steel). The only one in the shelter was Bonzo the dog. I was about to dive in and join Bonzo when I realised that the others were sitting around chatting. I yelled: “Raid! Get in the shelter quick!” But they wouldn’t believe me. Anyway, the raid was over and the air raid alarms began sounding the alert – a bit late!

I went outside and was staggered to see plumes of smoke going up in all directions. It was a bad raid, with many people killed and injured, and yet I had not heard one bomb go off, and neither had my friends and others I spoke to!

As I looked around, I noted that one plume of smoke came from the direction of the home of the Durrells, so I set off to find out if they had been hit. As I got there, the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) had the area cordoned off, but they let me in, where I found that the house behind theirs had received a direct hit. Their house was OK apart from smashed windows on that side, and the occupants, Mrs Durrell, the two sons, Leslie and Gerald, along with their Greek maid, Maria, were unhurt but badly shaken.

There were lots of candles burning in the house, so I asked Mrs Durrell why it was so, and she explained that when they realised their close escape, Maria had lit a candle to her patron saint and they thought: “what a good idea!”, and lit every candle they could find in the house. They were most irreverent people, had no time for religion, but they reckoned it did no harm, and you never know – it might do some good!

During my absence, the squadron had moved from Poole to Pembroke Dock in Wales. I arrived there on 1st June 1943. On arriving, I found that a couple of changes had been made to the crew. Larry Donnelly, our WOM, had been sent on a pilot’s course, and I had been made 1st WOP. Les Baveystock had been commissioned and sent on a Captain’s Course - (he ended up on 201 Squadron) – and we had a new WOP, Horrie Morgan.

Our aircraft was W6077 – letter ‘U’ – and my first flight was an A/S (anti-submarine) patrol down the Bay of Biscay on the 5th of June 1943. This lasted 13 hours 20 minutes. The next trip was two days later and it lasted 10 hours 45 minutes. (We were recalled early as the weather was closing in and we diverted to Mountbatten.) We flew back to Pembroke Dock the next day.

Things were beginning to heat up in the Bay and we were flying constantly. Occasionally, we would sight suspicious looking aircraft, but there was usually some cloud we could duck into – (we called it ‘life insurance’) – but no U-Boats were sighted.

That is, until 30th July 1943.

Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:18. Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
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Old 24th Nov 2009, 10:39
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Thanks Blacksheep. I should have read a sentence further!

Wiley - Note Hooton Park and opinion on Bothas!!

The Gentleman Fitter.

I was now a fully trained Flight Mechanic, Aircraftsman 1st Class. I was posted to No.11 Radio School at Hooton Park, on the Wirral in Cheshire.

Eric was drafted to the Far East, to a maintenance unit, east of Calcutta.

I must have arrived at Hooton in the dark, because next morning when I looked out, there was a line of aircraft that I did not recognise. They turned out to be Blackburn Bothas.

There were only two stations with Bothas, this one and the other at the training school at R.A.F. Lossiemouth. The Botha was originally designed as a torpedo-bomber for the Navy. It was a strong aircraft, but was basically underpowered. The torpedo was carried in a bomb bay down the left-hand side of the fuselage, when it was released the aircraft nearly rolled over. The Bothas had suffered numerous accidents and were relegated to training and ultimately target towing.

At Hooton Park they were used to train aircrew for Coastal Command. The aircraft were fitted with a primitive radar system, with a small round green screen with blips on it. It was called A.S.V., (Air to Surface Vessels), and with it B.A.Bs, (Blind Approach Beam System). They would fly out over Liverpool Bay and the Irish Sea, to search for shipping, to get responses and then try to use B.A.Bs for landing back at Hooton.

Twice a day, lunch-time and evening we had to fill the aircraft with fuel, (840gallons), and top up the oil on each side (22 gallons). They were a high-wing aircraft and having crawled out of the top of the cockpit on to the mainplane, someone had to hand up a 4 gallon can of oil to you. Quite often the handles came off the tin and the whole lot crashed to the ground.

The petrol was pumped from a bowser into the wing-tanks. Some evenings I would wait for hours for the bowser to come. I think bribery took place to persuade the tractor driver to come to our aircraft first.

Every morning we removed the engine side-panels, checked the pipework and signed the aircraft log-book (Form 700), for the Daily Inspection. We would start the engines, warm them up, then take each up to take-off power and check the propellor pitch change. We would keep them idling until the pilot arrived, he would then sign acceptance in the log-book.

As the aircraft was designed for naval use, it had a Coffman starter; these made starting easy. It fired a cartridge that pushed a piston forward that engaged and turned the engine. If the engine did not start however, you had to put your arm up inside the engine, to turn to the next cartridge, the pipework was hot. Technically one could pull a lever in the aircraft to do this, but they usually did not work.

I flew in a Botha several times in the bomb aimer’s seat by the pilot, sometimes in the navigator’s seat and once in the turret. It was a well-built, all-metal aircraft, but was noisy at take-off. With the windows open, the tips of the propellors were only about six inches from one’s ear, I think that is why I have tinnitus today.

After a month or so several Avro Ansons were delivered. These were easier to maintain than the Bothas, they were low-wing and the engines were level with your chest. The aircraft were much easier to fly and were much safer, they were nicknamed, ‘Faithful Annies’.

They did have some disadvantages, however. They had a starting handle that had to be turned to start the engine, after the engine started, it had to be removed. On the starboard engine, you had your back to the fuselage and it was difficult to escape after the engine had started, you had to crawl back under the wing in the slipstream.

When the engines had to be restarted after lunch and were still warm, they could be difficult and required a lot of winding, this could be exhausting. The brakes were worked from a cylinderof compressed air that had to be filled before every flight. (My Dad got a hernia from all this cranking which he didn't have operated on until he was 50.)

When the aircraft had taken off, the wheels had to be wound up by hand and this was hard work. One also had to be careful to avoid the large aerial system that was fitted at eye-level for the radar system.

We had one day off in ten. On my day off, I had a long hot bath in the morning, then dressed in my ‘best blue’ and went into Chester. I had lunch in the restaurant at Brown’s department store, there was a little orchestra playing there, it was all very pleasant.

In the afternoon I would look into Rose’s camera shop, (still there!) and browse in the bookshops. I would then hire a boat and row up the river Dee for a mile or so.

In the evening I went to the theatre, where there was always a variety show, After that I would catch the train back to Hooton.

The radio section built little radios, (illegally?). I was asked to make the cabinets at two pounds each. I was quite keen to do this as my service pay was only six shillings a day, two pounds two shillings a week; so one cabinet was almost one week’s pay. I cut the plywood in the billet and put the glue on the stove and everyone complained about the smell.

When the fire in the hut stove was needed, instead of using paper and wood, we would use the Coffman starter cartridges to light the coke. The pellets in the cartridge would burn furiously, but they made a lot of smoke!

After a few months I was made up to a Leading Aircraftsman and as an L.A.C. I was sent on a Fitter 2 E’s course, This was an engine-fitter’s course, I never discovered why we had a ‘2’. The course was held at Innsworth, a permanent station, on the road between Cheltenham and Gloucester. There was no airfield.

Here we were in small groups and practised taking engines to pieces and reassembling them. Our first week was spent doing practical metalwork. The first job was scraping the faces on two hollow castings, so that when they were bolted together they were airtight.

The second job was making an ‘U shaped gauge with a 1” square that would fit into it, It had to be accurate to within one thousandth of inch. I did rather well at this and scored 84%. I was top of the entry of 180 airmen. Not bad, eh?

When it came to the verbal and practical examination on engines, at the end of the course, they took me first and gave me a terrible grilling. I only scored 78% overall and I think this was a fix!

Last edited by angels; 24th Nov 2009 at 12:51.
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Old 24th Nov 2009, 19:44
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A Spitfire Pilot. Part 20.

Royalty visits Biggin Hill - April 1942

King George VI paid us a visit one day when normally we wouldn’t have flown; it was nice and bright but there was a terrific wind and it was an awful job taxiing. In fact you couldn’t taxi without an “erk” on either wingtip holding the aircraft down. Anyway we all paraded on the perimeter track and because of the wind we had to wear flying helmets which made life a little difficult if you were trying to talk to anybody. Brian Kingcome would come along the row and he’d shout something at the King saying “This is Pilot Officer Bloggs” and the King would say something and ask the pilot something, who didn’t know what he’d said, but he’d shout something back. Well when it came to my turn, I imagine the King asked me how many I’d shot down so I shouted “One” at him, thanked him and that was that, but quite honestly, what he’d said, I hadn’t the slightest idea.

As I said the weather would normally have been too bad for us to take off, but because KGVI was there, we had to show willing so we took off, eventually did a sweep across France, nothing happened and we all came back, but we had an awful job landing. All of the groundcrew were parked down one end of the runway and we each had to make a wheel landing, which wasn’t very good and then the groundcrew would grab a wing and get us back to the dispersal.

There were several pressmen and photographers with the King that day and apart from taking photos which appeared in The Telegraph, the pressmen came and had a chat with members of the squadron and when they found out that George was “Sailor” Malan’s brother, they wanted to make a big write-up, but George wasn’t having any, he just disappeared, he couldn’t stand anything like that.

When the photos were printed in the paper, lo and behold, there I was, right in the front, shaking hands with the King and it wasn’t long after that that we had a visit from King Haakon of Norway and when we knew he was coming, some of the lads came up to me and said,

“Get your hand ready, Robbie, the man’s coming!”

Anyway, we lined up and were introduced again and lo and behold, again, when the cameras took photos, there am I, shaking hands with King Haakon.

NB, Both of these pictures have pride of place in my dining room - JF.
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Old 25th Nov 2009, 05:06
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WOP/AG Peter Jensen. Instalment 7

30th July 1943
An early morning takeoff on a T3 patrol - that is, pick up the Scillies, then in a straight line to the Spanish coast south of Cape Finisterre, a coast crawl to Finisterre then straight back to the Scillies. It was a beautiful day, just outside the 3 mile limit of Spain, we could see people on the beaches, the water was sparkling and blue - how we envied them. Even in the aircraft it was warm - I had my jacket off and sleeves rolled up. (We kept strictly outside the limit because one day when we strayed in a bit, the Spaniards had a shot at us with a coastal gun. Boy, it was close!)

On our way back, just after leaving Finisterre I was on the set and intercepted a sighting report from another aircraft. It was near us, (grid co-ordinates FKJE2O2O — funny how things stick in your memory), so we changed course and came upon three U-boats on the surface, with 3 other aircraft circling - a British Liberator, an American Liberator and a Halifax.

As we came on the scene, the British Lib attacked and the U-boats opened up. Each boat had a battery of four 20mm cannon aft of the conning tower (called the ‘bandstand’), and a single 20mm cannon each side of the conning tower, with self-destroying shells timed for (I estimate) 1,000 yards. What a barrage!! — it looked like a brick wall. The Lib broke off the engagement and continued circling.

I thought: “Well, that precludes us.” Ours was an early Mk II kite with a single pan-fed Vickers G.O. gun in the nose turret. (Later versions had 2 Brownings in the turret plus 4 fixed Brownings.) We certainly weren’t equipped for a head-on attack. I reckoned our role would be to home in the sloops I knew were nearby.

Much to my dismay the klaxon went to run the depth charges out!!

I thought: “We can’t get through a barrage like that. The skipper’s mad.”

The voice of the skipper, Dudley Marrows, came on the intercom to Jimmy Leigh, the first pilot: “We’ll take the port one, Jimmy,” —

Then Jimmy came on: “OK skip,” - (pause) – “Why not go diagonally across and get the lot in one go?”

I thought: “My God, we haven’t got one maniac on board — we’ve got two!”

Then Dudley came on: “One at a time Jim,” - (pause) – “Get ready to take over if I’m hit.”
Then we were into it, attacking from a very low altitude - around 60 feet - to minimise the effect of the other two U-Boats’ heavy fire. Violent evasive action, shrapnel rattling on the hull like hail with incessant loud bangs as pieces of shrapnel were picked up by the props and flung against the hull. It was too thick even for Dudley. He broke off to port, and as he did so, saw that the Lib had taken advantage and had attacked again. Dudley continued the turn and bored in behind the Lib.

The Lib was hit and turned away smoking badly, but by now we were in to about 600 yards and all the guns turned on us. “Bubbles” Pearce was in the nose - he only had 100 rounds - and held his fire to 400 yards then opened up and swept the decks of ‘our’ U-boat. As low as we were, (about 60 feet), we just cleared the conning tower and straddled it with seven depth charges. It must have been blown apart. We turned around again and flew over to verify the kill. There were about 25 to 30 men struggling in the water, so we dropped them one of our dinghies and took photos.

U 461’s attack on U-461

The depth charges exploding

Survivors of U-461 in the water

By this time the Halifax had bombed another U-boat from about 4,000 feet - out of range of their 20 mm’s - and it (the boat) was going around in circles blowing smoke with the crew jumping into the water, each with a one man dinghy inflating around him. (It looked like a mass of flowers bursting into bloom.)

We turned to the last U-boat, and as we bored in, Dudley was surprised to see splashes all around it. He looked around and saw the sloops had arrived, so he decided he’d leave it to them, so he pulled out and we took stock. We had collected a couple of shells, but no real damage. The only problem was fuel. All the combat had been done in rich mixture, and we had barely enough to get home. So we set course for home.

Half an hour later - another U-boat! Dudley went straight in with our last depth charge, hoping to catch it unawares, but they were waiting for us. Again, the mad evasive action, the shrapnel, then we were hit, on fire, and the kite filled with smoke. But what I didn’t know at the time, the controls had locked and we were heading straight for the U-boat! Dudley yelled to Jimmy and together they pulled on the wheel and just managed to clear the conning tower, the depth charge was jettisoned and we prepared to ditch. While this was going on Bubbles had put the fire out with an extinguisher - (the fire was in the bomb release gear). Then Dudley found he had accidentally pushed the lever to engage the autopilot. He flicked it out and the kite responded again. Again we assessed damage, again the kite appeared OK - but fuel was very low.

We headed for home again, throwing out all surplus gear in order to lighten the old kite, and made it to the Scillies with about a pint of fuel left in the tanks. There were no refuelling facilities there, so we refuelled by bringing four gallon drums to the aircraft by launch, passing them through the wardroom and galley, up the stairs to the top deck, out the astro hatch on to the wing and pouring the fuel into the tanks.

When we got back to the squadron, poor old ‘U’ went straight up the slip for inspection. They found a large lump of main spar had gone - (if the shell had been a couple of inches higher it would have gone into a tank) - so our faithful old kite was pensioned off and we were issued with ‘E’.

The crew of U 461 the day after sinking U-461

Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:24. Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
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Old 25th Nov 2009, 11:49
  #1317 (permalink)  

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When I got a weekend pass from Innsworth, I used to visit my parents who were evacuated with the London schoolchildren at Tredegar, South Wales.

On the Saturday lunch-time I would cycle to Gloucester and leave my cycle in the yard of a pub just by the station. I then got a train to Newport where I changed to the train up the Sirhowy Valley.

I always bought a quart of cider from the N and took it for my father. On my return, as no trains ran on the branch line on Sundays, I had to catch a bus down to Newport and that went at two o’clock in the afternoon. It then took two hours to do the twenty miles and I still did not get back to camp until nearly midnight.

When we had to stay in camp for the weekend there would be a continuous card school going on. We would go off for meals and it would still be going. It was always pontoon at sixpence a go.

One day when I was alone in the billet I decided to play a little tune on my clarinet. Suddenly the door opened and in came the sergeant who had the room at the end, near the entrance. He was not concerned with us on the fitter’s course.

He said that he played the violin. He was brilliant and could play like Stephane Grappelli. He then found a pianist and a drummer and we played jazz in the NAAFI in the evenings. I got ten shillings a nIght.

Sometimes, I went to the Spa Orchestra concerts that were held in Cheltenham Town Hall. I always sat in a box, up on the right hand side.

On one occasion, during a Beethoven Symphony, the ball end flew off the tympanist's drumstick. It bounced down the staging and landed at the conductor's feet!

Whilst the remainder of the entry were having their tests, I was parked in the Administration Office. It was full of filing cabinets and there was nothing to do, so I started to learn to use the typewriter that was there.

After the Fitter's Course, I returned to Hooton Park. it was the spring of 1944. We still had to work on dispersal to get the aeroplanes flying and we also carried out maintenance inspections on the Ansons in the hangar.

After the inspections were finished, sometimes I would go on air-test. The main runway ran parallel to the Manchester Ship Canal. As we took off we could see the Liberty Ships and Eastham Lock, where they entered from the River Mersey.

The pilot would fly the aircraft out to sea. We would shut down and restart each engine in turn and then wc would go into a dive and pull out, to see that it all stayed together. Dad used to tell me that the pilots would always take the erks up after work on a plane. They felt it gave the groundcrew added incentive to do a good job!!

The wing-tips would bend up about a foot. Sometimes we would fly up the coast of the River Dee estuary and look out at the expensive houses at Neston, with swimming-pools in the gardens.

On one occasion we flew over Birkenhead and up the coast to Southport. I was with an Australian pilot. Suddenly he got out of the cockpit and said, "I'm fed up with this, you fly it. I'm going up the back for a fag." So I had to take over!

He obviously thought that I could handle it and that he would be quite safe. I had control and after a quarter of an hour or so he came back and complained that I had climbed 400 feet. I had not noticed it!

All the aircraft had landed by midday and we had them shut down and chocked. The planes for the afternoon flights would be parked up near the hangar and not out on dispersal. The dispersal park was about half a mile away, it was the large area of grass between the main runway and the Manchester Ship Canal.

After lunch we were supposed to report back to the hangar at 1315 to see the blackboard for the afternoon flying detail and to restart the aircraft that would take off about 1400.

Sometimes I was a bit late arriving back; the Warrant Officer decided to take action. If he was upset about it, I think a quiet word would have been sufficient, as in the evening I quite often had to wait until 2030 to get the last aircraft refuelled.

I apologise for telling this story with such relish!

Unfortunately for him, he chose the wrong day to strike. Unknowingly, he picked a day that I was actually early! On the way into the hangar, I stopped and talked to one of the airframe sergeants. I then went into the storeroom to get some spark plugs and copper wire; so I did not get down to my designated aircraft until about 1330.

Soon afterwards, an officious little corporal arrived; he said I was on a charge of being 'absent without leave, between 1315 and 1330.' I asked him quite politely if he was absolutely sure about this. he said that 'Chiefy' Scott had ordered it. Three other airmen were charged at the same time.

The next day, at 1200, we were marched into the C.O's office, "Left, Right; Left, Right," etc. We stood in a line before the C.O., the Warrant Officer and the corporal stood to one side.

The charge was read out and the C.O. asked what we had to say. I immediately spoke up and explained that I was on duty for the whole time in question; that I had entered the hangar at 1310, spoken to Sergeant McMullen (what a stroke of luck!) and then gone to the store and that when I was at the aircraft the corporal came and charged me.

The sergeant was sent for and he corroborated my story. The C.O's moustache began to droop and he shouted, "Case admonished!" Actually, he should have said, "dismissed."!!

After we had been marched out, those involved got a 'rocket'. I suspect that the other three airmen probably were late, but they got off as well.

Life returned to normal and after the afternoon flights had departed we would get into the cockpit of an unused aircraft and have a little sleep in the sun.
After a while the sergeant would cycle round and waggle the ailerons on each aircraft, this would make the control column move about and it would wake up the sleeper.

One day I did not wake up and unbeknown to me everyone was suddenly detailed to go to see a 'V.D.' film. My absence was noticed and when I went back to the hangar there was no one there, but chalked on the board was a message saying that I had to report to W.O. Scott.

This was tricky. I knew that the Warrant Officer lived in a house outside the camp and that he usually cycled off home about ten minutes early. So, I came back to the hangar about ten minutes to five and knocked on his office door.

There was no reply, he had gone home.
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Old 25th Nov 2009, 12:01
  #1318 (permalink)  
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Was LAC really considered a command rank?
Until 1951, Leading Aircraftsman was not a "command" rank in the sense that they could issue a Form 252, but they were supervisory within their trade group. In 1951 AC1 and AC2 was abolished, making LAC effectively the lowest trained rank and from then until 1964 Trade Groups 1 to 4 had Technician ranks with the Warrant rank being called Master Technician. Junior Technicians came between the newly created Senior Aircraftsman and Corporal and wore a single "upside down" stripe.

Technician ranks were supervisory within the trade group but were not "command" ranks. It was possible for a Corporal Technician with his upside down stripes to be "promoted" to Corporal and reverse his stripes to the familiar 'point at the bottom' orientation. Upon qualifying as a Sergeant Technician he would put sew his three stripes on with the point upwards and though senior to a Corporal Technician, continued to hold the "command" rank of Corporal. A Corporal could, in theory, order Sergeant and Chief Technicians about, though I never saw one that was brave enough to try it.

That was the confusing state of play when I joined, but as an Aircraft Apprentice I had no need to work out who was junior or senior to me or who could or could not give me orders: I was so low in the grand scheme of things that I could be ordered about by anyone, including the NAAFI girls. (As a Brat, apart from the bandmaster "Chiefy" Bailey, the only person who ever spoke to me nicely was an ex-Brat Air Vice Marshal that I bumped into on the train).
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Old 26th Nov 2009, 09:52
  #1319 (permalink)  

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In the break time, next day, I was having a cup of tea in the storeroom, when W.O. Scott came in. He came up to me and he was very annoyed! He asked me if I had seen the chalked message on the blackboard. I said that I had and that when I had knocked on his door at ten minutes to five he had gone home.

He went very quiet and then he said slowly, "Just because you got away with it once, don’t think you run the f*****g Air Force!’

Soon after that I was posted overseas!

It maybe doesn't come over hugely in Dad's notes, but he always maintained it was W.O.Scott that got him posted.

At the medical examination it was discovered the I had a left inguinal hernia., this was probably the result of swinging propellors. I was sent to the R.A.F. hospital at West Kirby for an operation. I have to admit that I was petrified.

Anyway, it was repaired (not properly it wasnt! It had to be re-done in the 70s) and I was kept in hospital for ten days. I was then sent for three weeks convalescence. It was at Lord Leverhulme’s house at Thornton Manor. Lever Brothers owned the soap factory at Port Sunlight. He had a splendid mansion, with an extensive garden and a lake.

We slept in a little ward that had been specially built on the side of the house. There were about a dozen patients and a ward sister who was in charge of us.

Whilst there I was with another airman who was a very good artist. We went to Liverpool, dressed in our hospital blue uniforms and bought canvasses, brushes and paint. We spent the sunny days doing paintings of the house and garden.

My friend was much taken with the giant rhubarb-like plant that grew by the lake. He did several paintings of it. There was also a small boathouse by the lake and in it were several old wood and canvas canoes. I asked Lord. Leverhulrn's daughter if I could repair one and use it.

She said, ‘Yes’. So, I could then paddle round the lake in the afternoons. It was very peaceful and pleasant. In the billiard-room, there were paintings on the wall and there was a small one by Constable, It is interesting that we had so much freedom and were trusted to go anywhere.

Lord Leverhulme would appear sometimes. He was deaf and he had a deaf-aid that was as large as a gas-mask box with a pair of earphones. We always greeted him and said, ‘Good morning.’

Whilst I was there, I painted a self-portrait. The sister was very impressed with it and asked me if I would paint a portrait of her daughter. Unfortunately, I went overseas, so this could not be.

My memories of Hooton Park are of filling aircraft late in the evening, then cycling to the church hall at Childer Thornton where there was a canteen serving tea and jam on toast.

WAAF flight mechanics were sent to work with us. This necessitated a modification of behaviour and language among the airmen!

I became friendly with a WAAF, Brigit H., whose parents were German Jews and had escaped from Nazi Germany. After the aircraft had taken off, we would sit on the grass by the canal and talk about music and Mozart.

I was always very careful with the engine work that I undertook. I was always clean and tidy. I was the only fitter with the skill and confidence to do the silver soldering on the copper pipes for the instruments.

They called me, ‘A Gentleman Fitter’.

As you've probably gathered, Dad really enjoyed his time up north.

Now we move onto a different chapter.
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Old 28th Nov 2009, 01:55
  #1320 (permalink)  
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WOP/AG Peter Jensen. Instalment 8

Post script to the sinking of U 461 by U/461
On Tuesday 3rd June, 1986, my wife Rosemary, Silvia Marrows and Harry McIver and I arrived in Munich to meet Wolf Stiebler, the captain of U461.

On the flight to Munich, I was beset with not a little trepidation - how does one greet a man whom you once did your damnedst to kill? However, I need not have worried. We recognised each other immediately. His handshake was firm, his smile was genuine.

"Peter," he said, "We last met in the Biscay!" and laughed.

We all got on wonderfully well. Wolf spoke reasonable English, Silvia spoke German quite well, and as Harry and I had spent the previous 12 months going to German classes once a week, we could communicate quite well. Wolf could detect - and got great amusement from - our Australian accent.

Dudley Marrows (captain of U/461), Wolf Stiebler (captain of U-461) and Peter Jensen, Australian War Memorial, 1988

In our discussions with Wolf, he gave his version of what has been described as the greatest battle of the war involving U-boats. U461, U462, and U504 left Lorient on the evening of 29th July 1943. As senior officer, Wolf was in charge of the group. He ordered that they cruise on the surface all night and rendezvous at a point in the Biscay next morning.

U461 and U504 made the rendezvous, but U462 was missing. They stayed on the surface as long as they dared and Wolf was about to give the order to submerge when they saw flashes against the rising sun. It was U462 signalling with his searchlight.

They sailed back to him to discover that he had been submerged all night and had flat batteries. Using his searchlight had flattened them further, so it was impossible for him to submerge.
Wolf had to make a decision. He knew to remain on the surface during the day was dangerous. So should he stay with U462 and protect it, or submerge and leave it to its fate? He decided to remain surfaced, and was soon spotted and the battle began.

Our depth charges broke U461 in two, something on Wolf's clothing caught, and he was dragged down to a considerable depth before he was released and came to the surface. We had seen a Halifax bomb U462 and saw the crew abandon the boat and had assumed that it had been hit. Apparently this was not so. The bomb had missed and the crew had merely scuttled the boat.

We dropped one of our dinghies to the survivors of U461 (the crew of U462 all had one-man dinghies) and Wolf and the other survivors swam to it. They put three or four wounded men into the dinghy and the rest stayed in the water, holding on to the edge of the dinghy.

The sloops now arrived and U504 submerged. The sloops began depth charging about 800 to 1000 meters from the U461 survivors. According to Wolf, the men in the water suffered excruciating pain. They pulled themselves out of the water as far as they could but, (in Wolf's words), his stomach was forced into his chest and his eyeballs felt as if they were being forced out of his head. He honestly thought he was dying.

Wolf is very bitter over the whole affair. As he put it, he sacrificed two good boats and two good crews to save a boat which merely scuttled itself.

Silvia asked him if he had a good crew. "Yes," he said simply, "the best!"

After all these years it still rankles with him. He has never joined the U-boat association, but is a member of the "Cape Horners" (those who have rounded Cape Horn under sail).

Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:48. Reason: Typos, new infor from PJ
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